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Sublime Subliminals

By Doug Stackhouse


Ape Culture's British columnist contemplates his fifteenth year of Living in America

I sit and await the next bombast of American economic ingenuity with bated breath. Where oh where will it arise?

Television perhaps. That pixilated bastion of hopes and dreams, avatar of possibilities, currently square viewed but soon to be coming at us in mega-panoramic wide-screen if those singularly minded HDTV folks have their wicked ways. (I’ve seen HDTV by the way. It does indeed look marvelous.)

But wait. What about the deity known as the WWW? Surely a tableau as vast and unmonitored as the internet will produce the New Messiah?

All I ask for is a leader, a visionary, someone to lead us out of the image laden morass of a society dominated by SUV’s, Britney Spears and Enron executives. But I sometimes get the feeling the chosen one has already been chosen. He/She/It has been bar coded and is ready to hit the shelves for the kids to buy with the discount they saved off the latest Britney album when bought in conjunction with the N’Sync live internet concert in conjunction with the Gap jeans ‘Britney/N’Sync’ two for one deal in conjunction with the Disney buy four get twelve free Little Mermaid keno game raffle tickets but only if accompanied by an adult who has to pay forty-six dollars to get in.

Confused? This way to the join the club discount entrance.

Now forgive me if I sound a smidgeon cynical, but I’m not from the USA and I missed the indoctrination shot y’all received as infants. I like, nay love a lot of things about American culture but being force fed Media Icons is not one of them. I would like to choose my own heroes and villains thank you very much, not have them chosen for me by Budweiser or Kellogg’s or some other faceless entity who after all has the same basic executive blueprint that those good ole Enron boys down in the Lone Star State had. I’m not saying Kellogg’s and Bud are bad folks -- it’s just I simply keep expecting to find free tickets to a Madonna S&M party every time I dig into my cornflakes. It’s amazing. How can you stand it?

I may have been spoiled, but I grew up in a small town in Northern England where the only advertising was pretty much word of mouth and only one TV channel had commercial interruptions. We only had two channels when I was a kid, and I thank the lordy for that.

I’ve been in the states for fifteen years now so I’ve adjusted to it as best I can, but when I first arrived it was like stepping into a war zone. I felt blitzed, attacked, shell-shocked. I pulled up the bedcovers and cowered in terror, not realizing I had a choice. Buy, don’t buy. That’s all there is to it.

But I became a quick study. At parties I would chuckle and explain to the host that of course BMW builds the best cars. They say they do. The Ultimate Driving Machine.

And toothpaste? Pshaw. It had to be Crest. It has Dual Action Whitening Power. Twice as friggin’ white as the next guy.

To be truthful I didn’t buy any of the stuff I hawked, but I used the brand-positioning statements as a kind of passport to Americana. If people heard me bandying around these sound bites in a knowledgeable manner it appeared to give me access into their lives. I know it’s weird, but, hey kids, you bought this place. I’m still renting.

One thing that surprised the hell out of me was the standard of advertising on TV during this year's Superbowl, won deservedly by the mighty New England Patriots. I lived in Boston for twelve fruitless sports years, so don’t expect me not to crow a bit. Go Pats.

But the best ads were not for Pepsi or Coke. They all took a backseat to those wonderful lighthearted anti-smoking ads, the best one being the guy in the rat suit rolling around the Times Square subway entrance with a sign that named the carcinogenic parallels between cigarettes and rat poison. It was beautiful and disgusting at the same time. Kudos to rats everywhere. (I love the word ‘kudos’. It’s a 19th Century word, yet it sounds so postwar American.)

American society and culture does appear to create the biggest, most revered celebrities in the world. Is this a good thing? Take a good hard look at the school system and how it encourages success at all costs. Then think of how hard it was when you were at school. Then multiply by five, add seventeen, multiply by six and finally divide by nine. What do you have?

A box of Wheaties with Britney on the front. Good luck y'all.

Read A Pictorial History of Great Britain Told Through Microsoft ClipArt.

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